Writing Exercise: A Mundane Task

As writers, we always look for ways to hook and excite the reader.  We want to engage the audience and keep them intrigued by the story from start to finish.  Whether it’s a murder mystery, an action sequence, or a knitting contest, our goal is to keep our readers turning to the next page.

And while creating excitement, conflict, and tension are built into certain events, I wondered this weekend if mundane, day-to-day activities could be written similarly.

  • Pick a mundane task that everyone does (laundry, dishes, paying bills, getting gas or charging your car, etc.).
  • Write it in the first-person POV.
  • Take some time to write out the steps involved in the task in the order that works best for you.
  • Examine the list.  Are there any places where you can add excitement, conflict, or tension?  Where could a problem occur that might prevent you from completing the task?
  • When you set out to write the scene, be as descriptive as possible, making sure to use all five senses to transport the reader to the location and make them feel they are there with you while you undertake this seemingly tedious task.
  • The task should be completed by you as the character by the end of the scene.
  • See if you can write it in 500-words or less.

By taking day-to-day events and finding creative ways to twist them into a compelling narrative, you can enhance your stories and deliver page-turning narratives to your readers.  

If you are working on a story, are there ways to add moments with your character doing day-to-day things that can give us insight into who they are as a person?  Are there ways you can give this run-of-the-mill task a boost by having the character do it uniquely?

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Exercise: Using the Story Formula

Last time, we looked at the template needed to create a basic story formula:

HERO + GOAL + OPPOSITION = CONFLICT = STORY

For this exercise, use this template and brainstorm five to ten original ideas that utilize this framework.

  • What types of HEROES can you create that are unique and interesting?
  • What variety of GOALS can you come up with that would motivate a hero to actively pursue them?
  • What types of OPPOSITION would throw the hero off-balance and cause them to lose sight of their goal?
  • Do any of your ideas stand out as potential concepts for a larger story?

Maybe they all work, perhaps only a couple, but this is a great way to flesh out in its most basic form how a story and its conflict might work on a larger scale.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Challenge: Creating a Character

People.  We see them every day in some form.  Whether it’s in person, on TV, in a movie, or in a photograph, each person is unique and has their own unique look, traits, and personality.

Either through observation out in the real world or via your TV, computer screen, a new story, etc., find a photo of a person (they can be anyone), and write a detailed description of them.  If they are a celebrity or politician, give them a new name and profession.  

  • Describe what they look like.  
  • What do they do? 
  • What are they doing that day?  
  • Who are they with?  
  • How do they interact with others?  
  • What thoughts do they have?  
  • What do they think others think about them?  

In this exercise, details matter, so take your time to create a three-dimensional look at this individual.  Don’t be afraid to get silly, or dark, or outlandish, this is your opportunity to flex your creative muscles and create a whole new life for an existing person.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Are You a Plotter, a Pantser, or a Hybrid Writer?

All writers have their own unique ways of crafting a story.  The creative process allows writers to develop skills over time, and with each project, writers hone these skills into a method that works most effectively for them.  Experimenting with different writing methods is a great way to see what works best for you, especially when starting out.

Let’s look at three writing methods you can work with to find what works best for you!

The Plotter

You are a person who needs to know what’s happening in your story at all times.  Every story beat, every plot twist, and character moment must be nailed down and set in stone before you start.  You have your story organized on color-coded index cards, in a formal outline, or handwritten on legal pads.  You won’t start writing until you are 100% certain that all your ducks are in a row and you are confident in your story’s path.

Pros

Being organized is an important part of the creative process, especially when developing a story.  Having a roadmap from scene to scene and from start to finish can keep you on track and ensure that you will get to THE END sooner than later.  

Cons

There are times when being meticulous and following the map are encouraged, but they can also stifle and harm creativity if used too rigidly.  What you’ve written out is great and will get you to the endpoint, but if you don’t allow for a few detours along the way, you may miss opportunities for your characters and story to grow in ways you didn’t think of weeks ago during the outlining process.

The Panster

Always the renegade, the Panster likes to play fast and loose with their stories.  They have an idea or concept and have no problem diving into the fray, allowing plot and characters to bubble up whenever moments arise. You look at a blank piece of paper or a new Word document as your personal playground where you can build or tear down whatever you want, whenever you want.  Creativity is fun, and you are here to have fun!

Pros

There’s a feeling of creative autonomy that comes with this style of writing.  Your gut is in control of where your story and its characters go.  You don’t have the “limitations” of an outline or rigid story structure, and you can make immediate decisions.

Cons

Like many writers, you probably have had a great idea, jumped into it, then lost your way a few chapters in.  Where is this going?  Who are these characters, and why do they matter?  You can quickly lose your way, get frustrated, and walk away from the unfinished story.  

The Hybrid

Utilizing both methods, you can be the responsible adult (Plotter) and engage your free-spirited child (Panster).  You’ve created an outline that leaves room for creative flourishes and detours along the way.  Maybe something you have in your outline isn’t working, but a new sequence will work better.  In a Hybrid setting, you can switch things out and around without losing the overall story structure (since you have the outline), but also have the ability to be spontaneous when needed.

Pros

It’s the best of both worlds.  You can stay on track and know where you’re going but also live a little within the confines of the story.  

Cons

If you are rooted in your Plotter or Panster ways, it may be hard to implement a mixture of the two.  If you are a Plotter, give yourself a few scenes to play around with.  Likewise, if you’re a Panster, maybe create a rough outline of the major story beats that get you to the end of the story.  

Through trial and error, you can work to create a storytelling method that gets you where you need to go faster and more efficiently.

Final Thoughts

Figuring out who you are as a writer, your strengths and weaknesses, can help you fine-tune and evolve into a methodology that makes you a stronger writer and storyteller.  Creativity should be freeing, but sometimes you need a little guidance to keep that creativity – and the story being told – on the right track.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: What Actually Counts as “Writing”?

Did you write today?  What did you write today?  How many pages or words did you write today?  Sometimes, the thought of sitting down at the computer or laptop at home after 40 hours in front of a computer at work can be a difficult task.  You want to get outside, see people, do anything other than sit and stare at a screen – well, one where staring requires active thought and creativity.  

While the act of physical writing is an essential part of the writer’s life (especially if they plan to show their work to others), I often do a lot of the creative legwork in places other than in front of the computer.  I find that these activities open up my creativity channels and help me to brainstorm and connect ideas in a more productive manner.

Let’s talk about them!

Thinking

I often get hung up on the seeming finality and concrete nature of typing or writing an idea down; they seem to have more weight once they make it to the page.  This can prevent your ability to explore, add to, or remove concepts or ideas that don’t work in a fast-paced manner.

I like to actively think out my ideas for scenes, chapters, plot points, etc., and workshop them in my head for a while before I commit anything to paper.  I have found that this method allows me to swap out characters, change settings, create dialogue, and alter story points faster and more efficiently.

If something isn’t working, I can explore other options.  What about this?  What about that?  What if she went here instead of there?  What if he didn’t answer the phone?  Once I’ve worked things out, I’m more prepared to write the idea down.  Depending on how I fleshed out the idea, I will either write it in bullet point or paragraph form.

I do this on the couch, watching YouTube videos, cleaning, or doing other mundane activities.  Sometimes giving your creative brain free reign is a great way to solve a complex story problem.

Sleeping

Sometimes clichés deliver solid advice, and “Sleep on it” is definitely one that can result in many creative epiphanies.  Often, we are distracted throughout the day with dozens of other projects, chores, and activities that we don’t have the time to focus on our story.  

Once I’m in bed, ready to drift off, I will start to think of the story problem or issue that I’m having.  The crazy thing is that the subconscious often can find a way to resolve the issue while you sleep, resulting in you waking up with the answer to your story problem.  Does it always work?  No.  But when you do have that moment when you wake up, and the story dots all connect, it’s a great feeling.

Exercising

Walking.  Running.  Swimming.  Any form of physical exertion can help you get out of your head and allow your brain to do what it does best: solve problems.  I’ve been on a walk on a break at work and develop story ideas or story solutions.  I’ve been on the treadmill at the gym and worked out big story sequences.  

It’s amazing how even ten minutes of walking can clear your head and let the creativity flow.

Motivating Yourself

Yes, crafting a narrative and creating compelling characters and dialogue takes time and effort.  But it is work that should be fun and get you excited about the story you want to tell.  If you dread working on your story, all the thinking, sleeping, and exercise aren’t going to get you very far (although you might have solved other problems, be well-rested and in good shape).  

You are the only person who can get yourself excited and motivated to work on your novel, screenplay, or play.  If you can’t find the motivation, ask yourself why.  Ask yourself what’s missing from the project that would get me excited and motivated to get it done.  

The key is to find an aspect of the story you love and want to explore and express to audiences and use that energy and motivation to create your fictional world and its characters.

Final Thoughts

Creative people are always creating.  No matter where creatives are, stories, scenes, characters, and dialogue flow in and out of their brains rapidly.  A legal pad and pen or a computer and word processing program don’t make you a writer; they are just tools to help finish the job.

By taking steps through thinking, sleeping, exercising, and motivating yourself to open up the creative reaches of your mind, when you do commit your ideas to paper, they will be more impactful to you and the reader.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Becoming a Self-Aware Writer

Most writing takes place in a state of solitude.  It’s us – the writer – versus the blank page in an epic battle to create a compelling narrative that will leave future readers or viewers spellbound and wanting more.  It’s great to have the mindset that what we are creating is exceptional, but we also have to give ourselves the opportunity for reflection and self-awareness when it comes to our own work.

Self-Awareness, Not Self-Criticism

Being self-aware as a writer means having the ability to write something, step back, and find the issues that need fixing.  It doesn’t mean beating yourself up or telling yourself negative things about your writing skills or you as a writer.

It doesn’t matter what level of writer you are; the ability to look at your work and make the changes necessary to craft a stronger narrative is a skill that can assist your quest to become a better writer.

This is not a skill that can be achieved overnight but can be learned over time.  The more you write, the more you’ll sense when pacing is off, dialogue isn’t working, or there’s a lack of conflict or stakes in the chapter or scene.  It’s easy to see these issues in other people’s works, but utilizing this skill with your own work is a must in your writer’s toolbox.

Self-Awareness and Your Subconscious

Have you ever written something, walked away, and a few hours later began to deconstruct what you wrote and found problems with the story or a character’s actions?  That is self-awareness, and it’s your subconscious telling you that there are potential changes to be made.

Don’t get upset or frustrated.  This is where the growth and writing magic can happen.

Your mind is still writing long after your fingers have quit tapping the keyboard.  Your subconscious knows your story, knows your characters, and knows where the problems are.  Don’t get discouraged when these red flags pop up.  Your brain gives you clues as to what to fix to make your work stronger.

As long as you take a proactive approach to the changes and don’t stop writing, these moments of creative clarity can profoundly impact your writing and subsequent drafts of your project.

Self-Awareness from the Start

As you craft your outline, you may start to internally ask yourself questions about various aspects of your story.  That’s good.  Write these questions down.  Will they be answered later in the story?  Are the questions related to structure or character?  Keep a list of these questions as you work on your outline and see if they are questions worth exploring once the outline is completed.  

It’s often better to have most of the answers related to your story resolved before you start writing to avoid any hang-ups during the drafting process.  While drafting, you may come across other issues, but answering questions that pop up while working on your outline will get many structural problems fixed before you begin.

Self-Awareness Makes for Better Writing

Your writing reflects you and reflects who you are as a writer.  If you think that your first draft is perfection with no need to edit or even have a trusted person read it before you publish, you lack self-awareness as a writer.

Every good writer takes the time to hone their craft and make revisions when necessary, and they almost always are necessary to some extent.  Yes, you may have written a short story that is 100% perfect on your first draft, but novels and screenplays will often have issues that need to be fixed before they are taken to the next stage.

Start by walking away from your draft for a week or two, then come back with fresh eyes.  Maybe your subconscious has been gnawing at you for the past two weeks about issues in the story, and you’ve written them down to address them later.  

Now start at page one and read – don’t skim – every sentence, paragraph, and chapter with fresh eyes and a new perspective.  You will see some glaring problems, maybe a few typos, and other things that definitely need tweaking.  

And that’s great!  You are making a better product and making yourself a better writer.

Final Thoughts

Being a self-aware writer means that you care about the work you are producing, and you respect your completed work’s potential reader or viewer.  By taking this step and putting in the effort to make your writing better, you further your goals of being a more productive and confident writer.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Purposeful characters

No matter what type of fiction you’re writing, characters are essential to the story.  They engage the reader, generating empathy, sympathy, and connection.  Your characters must serve a purpose within the framework of your story’s world.

As writers, it takes time to craft, shape, and mold our protagonist, antagonist, and other characters into the overall story arc that we have created.  We shouldn’t be wasting creative energy creating superfluous characters who have no reason to be in the story.  

Here are some tips to help you eliminate aimless and purposeless characters from your story.

Take Inventory

Who’s who, and why are they there?  If you are in the beginning stages of writing your story, take time to establish your main characters, secondary characters, and background characters on a spreadsheet or piece of paper.  Do they serve an essential function in the story?

If you have already written your story, take inventory of your characters as you read through.  Do they all serve a purpose?  Is there anyone that doesn’t belong or isn’t really essential to the story?

By creating a spreadsheet, you can list who the characters are, their role, and how they tie into the story.  If you find characters that serve no critical function or role, you may want to cut them because…

More Characters = More Problems

Taking on an ambitious fiction project can be exciting.  Still, you also have to make sure that everyone you introduce has a reason for existing and serves an essential role in your story.  The more characters you bring into the mix, the harder it can be to keep track and keep things focused.

Limiting the number of characters can help keep the story and its conflict focused, so you don’t get lost in the weeds, which reminds me…

Where’s the Focus?

Your story has a main storyline with a protagonist working toward a goal amidst numerous obstacles.  That should be your primary focus as you write.  Find yourself deviating too much into subplots and side quests with other characters?  It may be time to either rethink the protagonist or move those other characters into their own story.

If the subplots tie directly back to the main character and their story, that’s fine.  But if you do notice that what they’re doing has zero impact on the main narrative, it’s time to cut it.

Superfluous Characters

Are there characters you’ve created that don’t really go anywhere or serve any real purpose within the story?  Maybe you wrote an elaborate backstory for a Starbucks barista that the main character encounters on their journey.  But, if they are in one chapter and never seen or mentioned again, you may want to trim out how they saved their grandma and her cat from a space heater fire in the fifth grade. 

However, if the barista’s backstory serves a key role in the story later on, and the character comes back to help save the day, they serve a purpose.  Just make sure that if you put in the time to provide lots of detail on a specific character, the reader has a reason to be given that information.

Elevate or Eliminate?

If your creative mind has crafted a complex side character who initially has no real purpose in the overall story, you have a few options:  

  • You can cut them out of this story and move them to one where they can play a more significant role.  
  • You can elevate them and combine their character and attributes with a less-than-stellar secondary character who may need some extra life.  
  • Or you can see how this character’s current role can be elevated through further interactions with the protagonist and the main story.

There are ways to make it work, but the character can’t detract or deviate from the main story.

Should My Protagonist Have a Pet?

I’ve seen this brought up before, and it’s an interesting question.  The answer is simple: only if you are willing to have the main character’s dog or cat be a part of the story.  You can’t just introduce the reader to the protagonist’s dog in one chapter and never mention them again.  Once you commit to your main character being a pet owner, you have chosen to keep that pet as a part of the story.

So, if your main character travels the world on quests, it’s probably best to keep the pets out of things. Otherwise, readers may wonder, “Who’s watching Rex?  Is the dog okay?  I know cats are independent, but she’s been gone for three weeks!”  

Read, Read, Read

Skim through novels and see how different authors set up and establish their various characters.  Some will be more detailed than others, but the key to this research is to identify how main characters, secondary characters, and others are described throughout the story.  

Whether you’re writing a short story or short film, a novel or a screenplay, knowing who your characters are and their purpose is essential to keeping the story moving and the reader or viewer engaged.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writing Tip of the Week: Setting Writing Deadlines

Deadlines.  We have them at work, and our kids have them for school projects, and the government gives us one to pay our taxes.  Having a set, definite date to aim for with something major can be a great motivator for getting things done.

But are you setting deadlines for your writing?

Even if you’re not planning to publish or send your work to contest, giving yourself a deadline can be a great way to get things in gear and get the writing done.  This milestone can be a moment of celebration and excitement; the novel is done, and I can move forward with my next writing project.

Some people may prefer not to have deadlines.  They allow the Muse to decide when they write and when the project is done.  That’s all well and good.  However, if you want to write a lot and get a lot done and off your To-Do List, I recommend creating deadlines for your projects.

Here are some things to consider when setting deadlines.

Be Reasonable

If you are working on your first novel, setting a deadline of one month maybe a little too intense (unless you’re into that sort of high-octane writing thrill).  Creating a reasonable deadline that is manageable but not ridiculous is the key to making the deadline work.

Maybe you plan to have a six-month deadline for your first novel.  Then once you’ve seen what you can do with six months, shave a month off for the next one.  

I’m sure you’ve seen stories and videos of people who wrote a screenplay in 48 hours or a novel in two weeks, and if you want to aim for that as a personal goal, go for it.  But if you have a day job, kids, a family, and other obligations don’t add to your plate writing a 65,000-word novel in a month.

No one wins in that scenario.

Write It Down

It may sound silly, but writing a deadline down in a notebook, a journal, on a calendar, or on a whiteboard where you can see it as a reminder is useful to keep you mindful of the chosen deadline date.

It is better to have it written down than to make a mental note and forget it.  

You can also use this as a way to mark smaller milestones on your way to the big deadline by establishing smaller goals in the larger timeline. If your goal is to write a first draft of your novel in six months, breakdown ideally where you want to be in the process at the end of months 1, 3, and 5. Fragmenting the larger goal can help make it less daunting.

Beat the Clock

Let’s say you set a deadline of three months to write a play.  Can you finish a day early?  A week early?  Giving yourself personal competition can be a great motivator.  It always feels good to get something done before it’s due, and this is one way to see how much faster you can get the project done before your stated deadline.

Reward Yourself

You finished the novel early!  You did it!  Give yourself time for a reward.  It can be going to a movie, buying a book you wanted, or getting dinner out.  This is another great way to incentivize yourself to set and keep your writing deadlines.

In our world of instant gratification, delaying getting what you want by completing a major writing task first can make receiving that reward all the better.

Stay Positive

Life happens.  If your deadline has to change or you miss it by a week or two, it’s okay.  Keep going and still work to get the project done.  The key is the complete the project.  While the deadline is nice to have, if things prevent you from writing, sometimes there’s not much you can do.

Stay persistent and keep writing.

Have Fun

Writing should be fun, and getting a writing project done should also be a fun process.  Remember that you want to get this novel done to move on to the next one.

Give yourself permission to enjoy the process and the creative aspects of the writing.  You’ll be grateful that you did.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writing Tip of the Week: Facing the Ominous Blank Page

Happy 2022, everyone!  I’m sure by now you’ve planned out your writing goals for the new year, but sometimes the most challenging part of digging into those goals is facing the ominous and foreboding blank page.  Whether on your laptop with a blinking cursor, or a pad of lined paper, the blank page is something all writers face, from newbies to seasoned vets.

So, how do you break through the intimidation factor that can occur when staring into the blank abyss?

Fact: The Blank Page is Inevitable

The blank page will always be an ever-present factor in your writing life.  It can’t hurt you.  It can’t harm you.  It can’t do anything but sit there and quietly taunt you.  

Don’t let it win!

You can’t learn to swim unless you get in the water, and you can’t ride a bike without getting on one.  And you can’t conquer the blank page without adding words and conquering its blankness.

Here are a couple ways to defeat it.

Write Anything

Conquer your fear by jumping into the blank page by writing whatever pops into your head.  It can be relevant to your story, but the trick is to eliminate the blankness by adding words to the canvas.  

Write a poem.  Write a thank-you note.  Write a logline.  Just write something to get the words on the page.

Write Down Questions

Your story has a lot of elements.  If you’re having a hard time diving into the meat and potatoes of the writing, write down questions related to your story, characters, setting, etc.  This will break up the blank page and give you story-specific things to think about as you begin your writing process.

Don’t Start at the Start

At this stage, there’s no need to begin your writing project at the beginning.  What chapter, scene, or sequence gets you excited about the project?  Is there a character’s description that intrigues you most?

Why not start there?

It’s all part of the same project, and if writing that piece gets the words flowing, then that’s the best place to start.

Remember, you can always go back and write the beginning later.

This year, fight the good by dominating and defeating the evil and dastardly blank page.  Your creativity is counting on you!

Happy New Year, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writing Tip of the Week: Setting your 2022 Writing Goals – Part Two

Last time, we kicked off the final month of 2021 by exploring ways to set new writing goals in 2022.  Below are a few more ideas to get your head in the game this coming year.

Always Be Thinking

We are surrounded by people, places, and events that have the possibility of inspiring and evolving into stories.  As you go about your day, observe and later write down what you experienced that was noteworthy.  Did something happen to you at work or school that could be the basis of a storyline?  Did your kid say something funny that would work great in a script?

By being aware of the real world around us, we can create stronger and more grounded stories.   

Work To Write Every Day

To write more, write better, and write longer, you need to make it a habitual ritual in your daily routine.  Whether it’s for 30 minutes, an hour, or two hours, work to fit time into your daily schedule to write.  Even if you write about your day, an experience you had, or on your big writing project, you are still working to develop your skills as a writer.

Numerous websites offer hundreds of writing prompts that can help you focus on what to write if you need assistance.  The key is to commit to writing every day and stick to it.  With each daily writing session, you’ll be amazed at how your writing skills grow.

Here’s a link to an article featuring 100 creative writing prompts from Writer’s Digest.

Have Side Projects Just In Case

I always like to have another writing project or two on the side if I hit a brick wall with my current project.  The solution should never be closing the laptop and skimming through YouTube videos on your phone.  A more productive way to deal with this issue is to have another project you can focus on.

I prefer that the second project is in a different genre and even another medium.  For example, if I’m writing a novel that’s action-adventure, I’ll have a play that’s a comedy to work on as well.  This gives your brain a rest and can actually help you subconsciously resolve issues you’re having with the primary project as you work on the secondary one.

Stay Positive

You’re going to have tough writing days. You’re going to get writers’ block of some kind. You’re going to have personal things pop up that distract you.  But when you’re at the desk, the table, or wherever you write, you have to have a positive mindset.  You will get the writing done.  You will get something on the page.  Even if it’s not quality work, it; ’s still work you completed and can fix later.

Don’t get discouraged with the process.  If you have issues with a story, step back and figure out why.  Write down why you think the story or a character isn’t working (that still counts as writing).  

The key is to not allow negative self-talk and other internal forces to win the creative war.  Push yourself through the blocks, the doubt, and the problems, and you will come out the other side with work you can be proud of.

Stay Focused

It’s hard in 2021 – and soon 2022 – to disappear from the world and just focus on your writing.  It can be hard to shut the world out and focus with social media, the news, COVID, family, friends, work, and doom and gloom seemingly lurking around every corner.

I recommend finding a chaos-free zone where you have your phone off, your wi-fi off, and as few external distractions as possible when you sit down to write.  You can fact-check your story later if you need to.

This is your time to escape the real world and live in your fictional universe with your characters and story.  I can guarantee that you will not miss world peace being achieved or a cure for all illnesses being discovered while you’re hunkered down writing.

Give yourself the permission and the time to focus, and you will be glad you did.

Have Fun!

This is the most essential aspect of writing.  You have to have fun with it. You’re not writing 500-word essays for your high school literature class; you’re writing a novel, a screenplay, a play, short stories, poems, or non-fiction.  This is the fun stuff.  Enjoy the creative ride.

I believe that the passion, excitement, and joy you have while writing translates off the page to the reader or viewer.  Creative writing shouldn’t be a torturous affair; it should be fun, invigorating, energizing.  

While there is plenty of hard work involved, it’s work that should be approached from a positive place, not one of dread or resentment.  Go into each writing session open-minded, ready to write, and have a good time.

I hope these tips help you plan out your writing goals for 2022.  I know that I will make a concerted effort to write every day, complete multiple projects, and stay focused on creating fun, positive, creative writing experiences each time I start a new writing session.

Happy New Year, Happy Writing, and I’ll be back with more articles in 2022!